Who is responsible for damages if my tree fell on my neighbor’s property but I told him previously that he could cut it down?

UPDATED: Mar 12, 2012

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Who is responsible for damages if my tree fell on my neighbor’s property but I told him previously that he could cut it down?

Last year, my neighbor told me an oak tree on my property had branches overhanging his fence and property. During an earlier thunderstorm, a branch fell and damaged his carport. I told him he was welcome to have any other the branches cut back on his side of the fence and if he was concerned, he could even have the dying tree removed, at his expense. He failed to act on my offer. The boarder between my property and his, has his 6 foot high wooden fence, and many large oak trees on both sides. Today he called and said the old tree had fallen over and damaged his fence, carport, and shed. I feel he should have at lease trimmed the branches last year. I asked if there was a storm. He said that is was wet out and that last night the tree just fell over. His insurance said he wasn’t covered, I have none. Now he wants to file suit if I don’t pay him. Who is responsible for what?

Asked on March 12, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Florida


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You would most likely be responsible: it was your tree, and you had notice that it was dying and therefore a risk or hazard. You cannot make your neighbor responsible for your costs or liabilities by giving him authority to act at his own cost--rather, if you are responsible for a condition, you must be the one to remediate it if you want to avoid liability. The law does not allow people to escape their duties byy simply saying that other people could act if they chose. (If the neighbor had taken up your offer, that would be different--then he would be responsible for the consequences of his action; but he was not obligated to accept your offer.) Therefore, if you do not pay and your neighbor sue you, there is a good chance he will win.

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